Last year around this time Slice/Serious Eats contributed to Pim Techamuanvivit's Menu for Hope charity raffle. Our giveaway was a guided pizza tour for four. Well, the winnersAnthony Kinik and Michelle Marek of Montreal food blog An Endless Banquetfinally made us make good on our prize. (It took them almost a year because they live in Montreal and I secretly think they were waiting for the loonie to beat the dollar before making a trip to the U.S.)
Di Fara Pizza
Taking out a Zipcar for the day, I picked up a minivan in Downtown Brooklyn and tried to make my way to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. In what would become a theme that day, I got lost, boxed in in traffic, and had to go in a few circles around a few blocks before finding the entrance to the BQE. By the time I picked up Anthony and Michelle in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, it was already 11:30 a.m., our erstwhile ETA at Di Fara.
No biggie. We got there at 11:45 a.m., and the joint wasn't too crowded. There were probably ten people in there besides us, many of whom had been served already. In fact, right as we entered, Dom pulled two square pies out of the oven, one for a carryout order, the other was up for grabs.
"Who wants slices?" Dom asked. There's almost never a slice pie up for orders. The pizza gods were truly smiling on us that day.
Shockingly, just one other patron shouted an order back to Dom. And even though I knew we had to pace ourselves for the day, I couldn't let this opportunity slip. And, since Anthony and Michelle had never been to Di Fara and likely wouldn't be back soon, I suggested they make room for a square while we waited for our half-plain, half-artichoke pie.
Our pie was up about 20 minutes later, and, though I've noted on this site that Dom's been burning pies the last few times I've visited, ours on Saturday was beautifully prepared. No burns, just a perfectly melted trio of cheese and olive oil engulfing buttery textured sautéed artichokes. (The 'chokes were perfectly cooked this time, too, with none of the bitter taste that occurs in undercooked specimens, which, sadly, I've gotten often enough at Di Fara that I usually avoid this specialty pie.)
Anyway, with three slices down the gullet, we piled in the minivan and headed to ...
Having made better-than-expected time at Di Fara, we arrived at Franny's just a little past 1 p.m. Which was fine, because Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine, who was set to meet us there at 12:45 p.m., was running a bit late himself. Nevertheless, he was holding down the table nearest the pizza oven when we walked in. Whether that was planned I don't know, but it gave our guests ample opportunity to check out the wood-fired beehive behemoth and chat a bit with the pizza-makers as they plied their art.
We knew we had to have Anthony and Michelle try the clam pie, since it's a real treat. We found out that the secret is that the cooks take the juices from the steamed clams and reduce them in cream before drizzling them back on the pie, giving it a beautiful saffron color and a rich but not overpowering clam flavor. Coupled with the unusual choice of parsley as an herb topping, this pie is a must when it's available. (They always seem to be out of it when I go on my own.)
We also ordered a buffalo mozzarella and sausage pie, which would have been a showstopper itself were it not on the same table with the clam pie. The crust was light and springy and pleasant, as usual. We were in pizza heaven noting the differences in styles between Di Fara and Franny's and hoped to have an equally excellent but different pie at our next stop ...
Unfortunately, Adrienne's let us down. Known for its "old fashioned" pie, which, anywhere else would be called a grandma pie (or a "nonna pie"), Adrienne's has gotten high marks in the past from both Ed and me.
We were running about an hour off schedule at this point, having had trouble finding parking in the Financial District, where the joint is located. ($15 for half an hour in a garage?! Really? Highway robbery!) Surprisingly enough, the place was packed. I had trouble imagining it'd even be open on the weekend, but there must be enough people living in the neighborhood now to support a brisk weekend business in addition to the usual zoo of Wall Streeters on weekdays.
Our old fashioned came to the table looking great, with a blistered surface that offered delectably crunchy bits of cheese and end crust, but the underlying dough was unforgivably raw over much of the pie. Only Michelle got a halfway decent slice and only because she got a corner that was thinner than the rest of the pizza. Pulling back the cheese revealed a gummy layer almost as thick as the pie. Michelle, a pastry chef at Montreal's Laloux, was quick to point out that raw dough is indigestible. Great, I thought, last thing I need is a lump of dough wreaking havoc with my guts as I shuttled everyone around town.
So it wasn't too heartbreaking that we had to leave half the pie there and hightail it back to the car to avoid paying for a full hour of parking. Well, at least we'd have one less takeout box to junk up the back of the minivan, which was becoming littered with pizza boxes and snacks from unscheduled pit stops. (When Ed is involved in a pizza tour, I quickly found out, the whole affair is prone to mission creep, with stops at bakeries and doughnut shops along the way.) And so we were back on the road to ...
Way behind schedule (but really, who cares?), we arrived at Isabella's hoping to get some pizza mojo back. Ed and I were apprehensive, though, since we'd heard from more than a few Slice readers that the place was less than overwhelming on weekend daysa different pizzaiolo is on duty Saturday and Sundays.
So when we arrived and were told that the usual guy, Luigi, had moved back to Italy temporarily, we were all a bit disappointed. Still, we hoped he had imparted his pizza wisdom to the daytime/weekend dough slinger.
What we found was a perfectly serviceable pienot the trainwreck that some Slice commenters had warned us about. Still, it just wasn't transcendent in the way it had been when Ed and I sampled it on various separate occasions and together with pizza freak Jeff Varasano and Jeff's equally pizza-geeky friend Scott Riebling.
The Margherita D.O.C. we ordered was a very good pizza, one that would please you if your neighborhood place made itor if it existed in any other city but New Yorkbut it was missing that special touch that Luigi had. For those of you familiar with the Patsy's chain locations, it was very much like the pies to be had there. You know what I mean? Good, right? But not mmm, great. And after having had Di Fara and Franny's earlier that day, well, you get the point. After this pie, we were eager to pay a visit to ...
Update (1/28/2009): Isabella's Oven Closed Until Further Notice
Una Pizza Napoletana
We arrived early at Una Pizza, but the friendly wait staff let us in and let us sit there and watch the oven fire up to temperature while proprietor Anthony Mangieri was out getting coffee before a long night before the embers. Instead of cooling our heels inside, we thought we'd take a walk to look at the new Momofuku, but as we were leaving we ran into Mangieri on the street. After a bit of small talk, he started waxing rather philosophic about pizza. (No surprise there, if you've read anything about him and his high pizza ideals.)
Mangieri and Ed chatted about a topic Ed often turns to here at the SliceSerious Eats officethat to make truly great pizza, the owner/chef needs to be obsessive about his or her art, to the point that he or she is at the restaurant constantly, if not the sole person making the pies. On this day, we were lucky to visit two such pizzerias with truly dedicated pizza artisans: Di Fara (Dom) and Una Pizza (Mangieri). Compared with Isabella's and with Adrienne's, the difference that a dedicated pizza master makes could not be clearer.
At Una Pizza we ordered a marinara pie (San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic, basil, and sea salt) and a filetti (cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, basil, and sea salt). The marinara pie, with its lack of cheese, let us better experience the crust on its own. And it was truly great. Lots of oven spring at the edges, just crisp enough, and with a bready, salty flavor that was pleasing on its own.
But the filetti bested it. By a mile. The buffalo mozzarella, meltingly creamy like butter, enveloping the sweet tomatoes, all complemented by the rich flavor of olive oil and cut by the healthy dose of sea salt. After finishing, Anthony Kinik suggested we cut the tour short here and omit the Joe's and Bleecker Street Pizza stops. "There's no topping this," he said. "We might as well go out on a high note."
Agreed. And so we dropped Ed off at the subway and continued back to our respective perches in Brooklyn—Anthony and Michelle with boxes full of pizza for their friend and host, me with a belly full of pizza and a day's cross-section of different pie styles to add to the pizza intel on the interwebs.
Until next time, my friends, hasta la pizza.